A facebook friend recently posted this: "Si vis pacem, para b̶e̶l̶l̶u̶m̶ pacem", which made me think some about pacifism.
Pacifism is often understood as an opposition to war. That seems misleading, though. You aren't really against war. What you're really against is taking up arms yourself. Certainly you're also against the other guy taking up arms, and presumably you're against the other guy displaying provocations besides taking up arms, but everyone is against that. It's not a distinguishing feature of pacifism. The sense in which you can reasonably say that "pacifists are people who are against war" implies a meaning of the phrase "against war" that you could apply to just about anyone. I am "against war" as much as pacifists are, but I don't usually think of myself as a pacifist.
What pacificsts are really against, as I said earlier, is taking up arms yourself in either war or peace. Being "against war" is like being against mortality or the fact that I can't fly. Sure I'm against that stuff, but it doesn't tell you much about how I conduct myself. As a philosophical identifier, it seems like pacifism oughta communicate how one conducts themselves. Given a war, a pacifist wants to be a passive participant.
One might call such a position passivism, rather than pacifism.
Passivism may make sense in a lot of cases because you avoid false positives when diagnosing aggressors. This is particularly advantageous in the murkier world of the war on terror. If I am a passivist my passivity is going to keep a conflict from starting in the case that I misdiagnose a terrorist threat.
But when you frame it as "passivism" rather than "pacifism" the costs of this view become obvious as well. What if there is war? Of course I want peace, I don't want war, but what if a war finds it's way to me anyway? Passivity doesn't stop the war. Passivity only brings on actual peace (which is the goal, of course) in the terrible sense of conceding defeat to an aggressor. That's not really peace at all. What's worse is that under a policy of passivity, bellicose governments will tend to dominate the planet, right? Bellicose governments are by definition not passivist, and governments (or individuals and voluntary communities, for you an-caps) that are passivists will by definition lose to bellicose governments, so we're going to live in a more bellicose world.
At this point I know Bob Murphy will tell me I need to listen to his video about warlords that Walter Block likes so much. And I should, and I will (Bob Murphy is not the one that posted that status message).
But at least now Bob and I are talking about an acutal difference of opinion or expectation about how the world will work.
That's only possible when you realize that "pacifism" is a total misnomer and that what we're really talking about is "passivism" - specifically whether passivism should be some kind of conditional or unconditional policy (everyone - even Genghis Khan and Adolf Hitler - were conditional passivists, so presumably the entire human race agrees that passivism is sometimes appropriate).